Untamed Lowcountry

Here’s why snake bites are increasing this year

'Snake Chaser' on call for nuisance or wayward animals

The floods of 2015 and Hurricane Matthew this year displaced many animals in the Myrtle Beach area. Snake Chaser Russell Cavender helps bring these animals back to their natural habitat.
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The floods of 2015 and Hurricane Matthew this year displaced many animals in the Myrtle Beach area. Snake Chaser Russell Cavender helps bring these animals back to their natural habitat.

Reported snake bites in South Carolina have increased 30 percent.

As of April 2017, the Palmetto Poison Center had received 22 reported snake bites compared to 17 in April of last year, according to managing director Jill Michels.

Last year, there was a 33 percent increase with 156 bites reported in 2015 compared to 208 in 2016.

“Looking back at the history we get around 150-160 (reported bites),” said Michels. “The way the season is going this year, we could see another increase in calls.”

Snakes are incredibly secretive and the reality is that we really know relatively little about what influences their behavior.

Scott Parker, Coastal Carolina University biology professor

Russell Cavender, also known as “The Snake Chaser” says he’s also received an increase in calls about snakes over the past two springs.

Cavender is an expert in snake and reptile control and removal based in Myrtle Beach, and said the increase could be caused by flooding.

“When you get that fall flooding, snakes are preparing where they’re going to spend that winter,” said Cavender. “The high water washes them into higher ground. So when the water recedes there’s no need for them to travel back.”

The high water washes them into higher ground. So when the water recedes there’s no need for them to travel back.

Russell Cavender: The Snake Chaser

The higher ground puts them in closer proximity to where humans live, and human interference with snakes results in more bites, said Cavender.

“I had a guy last year who tried kill (a snake) with a flip flop and got bit on his hand and spent a couple days in the hospital,” said Cavender.

Cavender said snakes are most active when the weather gets warm and they begin mating. Fall is when they have their babies.

“April and May is the peak early season for snakes,” he said. “Second busiest is September and October. Copperheads are mating right now.”

I had a guy last year who tried kill (a snake) with a flip flop and got bit on his hand and spent a couple days in the hospital.

Russell Cavender: The Snake Chaser

Coastal Carolina University biology professor Scott Parker said there’s not one underlying reason for the increase.

“Snakes are incredibly secretive and the reality is that we really know relatively little about what influences their behavior,” Parker said in an email.

Parker hypothesized that there could be several other reasons for the increase in snake bites.

With less intact habitat, it is inevitable that snakes and people are going to encounter one another more often.

Scott Parker, Coastal Carolina University biology professor

Because snakes are more active in warmer weather, the recent mild winters could mean there was more outdoor human and snake activity during the early months of the year.

“That combination increases the probability that snakes and people will come into contact with one another,” said Parker.

The warmer winters also mean that snakes are more active and could start mating earlier, he said. Because snakes are less dormant during mild winters, they could begin feeding as soon as the weather warmed up, which would increase their contact with people.

Finally, the population increase could also be causing the increase.

“Just look at all of the new housing and commercial developments popping up in our area,” Parker said. “With less intact habitat, it is inevitable that snakes and people are going to encounter one another more often. It’s likely that a combination of all of these factors might produce a ‘perfect storm’ to explain the increased frequency of snakebite.”

Christian Boschult: 843-626-0218, @TSN_Christian

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